After WRC Investigation, a Binding Agreement to Protect Workers

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova
Date:June 21, 2022
Re:After WRC Investigation, a Binding Agreement to Protect Workers

Please find here the WRC’s report on our investigation of gender-based violence and harassment at the Natchi Apparel factory in India and binding agreements recently signed with worker representatives, the brand H&M, and the factory’s owners to eliminate these violations from the workplace. The WRC’s investigation of these abuses, and the subsequent agreements to combat and eliminate them, were the subject of this recent in-depth article in the Guardian. Given the importance of these new agreements, we are encouraging brands that are current or past customers of Natchi to support the factory with continuing and new orders.
While Natchi is not a collegiate apparel supplier (recent buyers from the factory include, in addition to H&M, Authentic Brands, Marks & Spencer, and Walmart), the state where Natchi is located, Tamil Nadu, is India’s largest center for collegiate apparel production. Gender-based violence and harassment has long been recognized to be widespread across the state’s garment industry, and the agreements discussed in our report represent an important commitment to address this abuse, establishing a precedent that has the potential to help protect workers in the state producing collegiate apparel as well.
The WRC investigated gender-based violence and harassment at Natchi, at the joint request of worker representatives and brand stakeholders, following the murder in January 2021 of a young woman worker at the factory by a male company supervisor, who is currently jailed awaiting trial for her killing. The purpose of the WRC’s investigation was to assess broader labor practices at the factory regarding gender-based violence and harassment and, thereby, inform dialogue among stakeholders concerning measures necessary to prevent such abuses going forward. Our investigation found an atmosphere of pervasive gender-based violence and harassment at the factory, including two other likely cases where recent violent deaths of women workers appeared linked to their employment at the factory.
After completing our investigation, the WRC provided a draft report to the stakeholders and agreed to hold off on publication to allow for continued negotiations among the parties toward binding agreements to protect workers at Natchi. In April 2022, worker representatives, the factory’s owner, and H&M announced the agreements, which will establish a comprehensive program for worker training and empowerment and for effective and impartial investigation and remediation of workers’ complaints concerning gender-based violence and harassment. Worker representatives will play a central role in the program. The factory owner’s commitments are to be enforced by H&M as a mandatory condition of future business, which, along with funding for the program, are binding obligations for the brand through its own arbitrable multiyear agreement.
The labor signatories to the agreements include Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU),  Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), and Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF).
In a global garment industry in which gender-based violence and harassment is widespread, these agreements represent binding commitments, by factory owners and by brand representatives with worker representatives, that will protect the workforce from abuse. Given the prevalence of gender-based violence and harassment in the apparel supply chain, the most meaningful indicator of corporate responsibility is not whether this problem exists at a company but whether the company and its buyers are pursuing bold and innovative means to address it. To their credit, H&M and Natchi’s owners, in partnership with worker representatives, are doing so.
As always, please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.